HigherEd360 was formerly known as Academic360 and now features a new design and updated content.

Advice & News

April 19, 2019

In the Mind of the Interviewer


Sergey Nivens/Shutterstock
Searching for a new job is an emotionally encompassing project. It invites an opportunity to take stock of how you grew professionally in your last role; plus, it presents a chance to reflect on how you'd like to further that awareness and those skills in your next endeavor. Job searching requires an open, humble, and optimistic mindset -- a delicate balance of looking outward and inward.

While it's exciting to have an excuse to take a holistic approach and prepare for this important life change, it can feel off-putting to present a self in flux to an interview team. It may seem intimidating to share your personal narrative about goals, triumphs, and challenges to what can feel like a panel of judges evaluating those responses against a rubric you can't see.

But keep in mind: each interview experience you undertake is important to your professional development, regardless of its outcome. Getting comfortable discussing your skills, experiences, and goals is an important life skill. The value you get from learning to manage the highs and lows of this process is more nuanced than the end result each interview yields. This process is about evolving yourself.

As you find your comfort zone, keep in mind that an interview team isn't judging your value as a professional or as a human being. They are simply assessing how you might add to their team and fit their open position. The interview team is on a fact-finding mission, just as you are.

If you can get a sense of what the team may be thinking, it can calm your nerves and enable you to have this important conversation from a comfortable place. That's what really matters -- because it bolsters your self-development goals, which is the only outcome that you can control.

Get Comfortable and Be Present
Preparing for a job interview has a way of feeling old-school as you pour over your prospective employer's website, iron your shirt, practice your route to the interview site, and rehearse answers to common questions.

This prep is important. You want to feel calm and relaxed, so that the inevitable nervousness doesn't keep you from finding your authentic voice and making the impression you want to make.

"The first impression has more significance than [interviewees] often realize," explains Dr. David Lenihan, CEO of Ponce Health Sciences University and co-founder of Tiber Health. "You only have a limited amount of time in an interview, especially during a first interview. You have to get yourself ready to be open and sincere right off the bat -- it is challenging but very important. Secondly, be yourself. Disingenuousness is easy for a seasoned interviewer to detect, especially when he/she is interviewing a lot of people for a single open position."

Prepare with the aim of feeling calm and comfortable, knowing that you're most likely to impress when you feel like you.

Demonstrate Who You Are
Interviewing can feel stressful when we think that we're supposed to highlight a part of ourselves that has been particularly successful and hard sell it within a limited amount of time. A well-conducted job interview gives you the chance to demonstrate who you are, what you've done, and how you think. By talking through various types of questions, you demonstrate who you are without having to strong-arm an impression.

Dr. Lenihan points out: "Often interviewees believe they need to have the answer to everything. It is OK to say 'I don't know,' and it's way better than making up an answer. I'm not looking to hire someone who knows everything -- I'm looking to hire someone I can trust to give me an honest response."

It seems like a no-brainer, but remember that honesty is key -- even if you feel like you're in the hot seat. It's ok if a question stumps you or gives you pause. Demonstrate your troubleshooting skills. Dr. Lenihan advises: "Don't ever lie! If you don't know an answer to a question, just say that you don't know. Nothing is worse than a blatantly wrong answer that's delivered confidently."

Be You
Sometimes, as interviewees, we have our eyes focused on the prize of scoring points, looking impressive, getting through the interview. It can take some of the tension away, though, to think of this less as a conversation where we're judged, and more as a conversation around the shared goal of fit assessment.

Of course, we want to emphasize our successes, but it's also important to mention those things that foster growth. "[J]ob seekers overlook an opportunity to talk about their failures," Dr. Lenihan points out. "It's great to know how much you increased revenue, or how much you added to student volume, but an interviewer can learn so much about a person from what his/her biggest failures were and what he/she learned from them. It shows that they are a reflective person who is actively trying to improve. Also, if they are willing to express where they've stumbled, I know that they are more likely to be truthful with me when they start the job."

Consider that those on the interview side are seeking a colleague. While candidates who know their subject matter are definitely well-positioned to turn heads, interviewers also want to see who they can work with comfortably. "[S]ometimes interviewees are too serious. Some humor can definitely be helpful while they're interviewing. I try to use humor in the interview and in managing my team to get people to be a little bit more open. Instilling humor can also make the interviewer feel more comfortable as well," Dr. Lenihan shares.

Dream Big
Enthusiasm is delightful. It's a core quality of emotional intelligence; plus, it's compelling and fun to be around. Share what makes you tick. Explain what you loved about your last position and what excites you about the one for which you're interviewing.

Dr. Lenihan explains: "Higher education is a family environment and a very close-knit group. Be willing to talk about the things that you're proud of -- not only in your professional life but also your personal life. If you're proud about your son playing rugby, talk about it. If you're proud of your wife being a CEO, talk about it. Don't be afraid to bring something personal to the table, because it makes it easier for the interviewer to imagine you as an integral and productive part of their team."

Remember
When you interview for a job, you're not meeting with a judge and jury who decide your fate. You're meeting with prospective co-workers who want to see what it might be like to work with you. Take the meeting seriously. Prepare meticulously. And be your real self, knowing that however it shakes out, this experience stands to benefit you professionally.

Good luck -- you've got this!